No-sweat Cooking, Day 22

wrappers of failure

31 dishes, 31 days – I’m cooking my way through Melissa Clark‘s “No-Sweat Cooking” from the August issue of Every Day with Rachael Ray. And to those of you who made your way over here via rachaelraymag.com, welcome!

I had such high hopes for this recipe for Spicy Summer Rolls, but my complete inability to work with the rice paper wrappers made for a rather spectacular failure. They’re an ingredient I haven’t worked with before, and there were no instructions on the package with respect to softening them, so I asked the Internet, settling on a source I trust in these matters, the MediterrAsian.com site.

Dinner: August 19, 2010

The 15 seconds that site recommends ended up being far too long for my particular wrappers, as the first of them disintegrated after a far briefer dip in the water. So I kept working, soaking the papers for a shorter and shorter amount of time, and generally being frustrated at the resulting rolls I came up with. It was late and our stomachs were rumbling, so I eventually gave up, deciding instead to toss the carrots, cress, and pork with softened rice noodles, some slivered hot and sweet peppers, fresh cilantro, and a dressing of Sriracha, fresh lime juice, and a bit of toasted sesame oil. It was a good and satisfying Plan B, though I’m bound and determined to get the original dish right.

Get the Recipe: Spicy Summer Rolls

Burned Out

I was so hopeful.

From the moment I saw this beautiful broccoli at the Simmons Farm table at last Saturday’s farmers’ market, I knew what I wanted to do with it. I had a lump of green garlic and anchovy-laden butter left in the fridge from a previous dinner, and Maria‘s winning food52 broccoli recipe echoing in my brain – I had hoped to do a spin on her dish, tossed with a bit of pasta to give it enough heft for a main course.

before I ruined dinner

I scattered my beautiful florets on a baking sheet, gave them a drizzle of oil and a scattering of salt and pepper, warmed my butter and olive oil with a bit more anchovy and green garlic plus a hit of red chile flakes, I carefully toasted some slivered almonds while my pasta perked away in a pot. And then…

cinders

The smoke detector went off. Mike ran upstairs to disengage it while the cats scattered and hid, and I stood at the counter crying over my blackened, bitter broccoli. I lost track of time and forgot to check it at 20 minutes, and in the blink of an eye, dinner was ruined – inedible.

After more cursing and many tears, we ordered pizza. Not my finest hour.

Dinner: May 17, 2010

Maria, I promise you I will try your recipe again, and next time I’ll watch the broccoli like a hawk.

Oh, crepe.

solitary

So this was the beautiful one, the one that worked out the way I had hoped they all would, the one that wasn’t sludgy, didn’t fall apart as I tried to flip it, the one that was tender and tasty. And the dozen or so crepes that came before it, and all but two that came after, each met different, disastrous ends in their own way.

local harvest

You see, even though I promised myself that I was going to play things safe for a while, I’ve been itching to work with this local rye flour for ages. I finally brought some home on Saturday, hoping to make crepes with it, light but hearty crepes to wrap around a filling of seasonal vegetables and a fried egg. Kind of like I did here, but a wintertime version.

Dinner: February 8, 2010

So I started with a base ratio for crepe-making, and I tested and tweaked, and I’m not yet there but this one crepe was so good I am determined to make it work. (The winter ratatouille was a complete success, and details will come to you soon, I promise.)

Chasing a Memory

strained yogurt with dill

My first taste of lamb came in my friend Leah’s kitchen – one of them, anyway – when I was in 5th or 6th grade. Her parents, both college professors, were divorced, and they maintained separate households on either side of East Warren Avenue. Both of them were avid cooks, and I was exposed to all sorts of new flavors during the course of my friendship with Leah (her dad’s fried provolone sandwich really merits it’s own post), but there’s one dish I had when we were hanging out that has been stuck in my head lately.

Leah’s mom referred to it as fried kibbeh, though I recall it being a bit lighter on the bulgur and heavier on the lamb than other versions I’ve tried. The thing that really made her mom Anne’s version special was the filling – each crisp patty was stuffed with a spoonful of yogurt, so when you took a bite, you got the flavors of rich, juicy lamb mingling with a molten, tangy center. It was pretty racy stuff, especially to my newly developing palate, and the memory of it still makes me close my eyes and sigh.

Dinner:  May 13, 2009

So I’m a little sad to report that my first attempt to recreate those swoon-worthy lamb patties was a bit of a disappointment. Oh, sure, they were tasty: the lamb was juicy and flavorful, seasoned with salt and cinnamon, cumin and coriander and a whole mess of finely chopped shallots, but I just couldn’t get that warm, saucy yogurt center to stay intact. I’m eager to try again, though, especially since we get such wonderful yogurt from Narragansett Creamery, and because the bright, fresh flavors of Middle Eastern cuisine are so welcome as we transition into warmer weather.

Fumble

The first two dinners of the week were less than blog-worthy, but I think it’s important to talk about my flubs and failures as well as my successes. Everybody has them, after all, and I hope that, particularly since today is Mike’s birthday and I’ve got something special planned for tonight’s meal, that the last few days aren’t indicative of a downward spiral.

the dinner that wasn't

I had such high hopes for Monday’s dinner. Since the first hint of chill in the air and the appearance of winter squashes at the market, I’ve wanted to make an apple and squash risotto, so I wrote it into the menu for this week. Even when I turn out a meal that isn’t up to snuff, I’m lucky that I don’t often turn out a complete disaster, but this, folks, was inedible. The squash I used was all wrong for the dish, the apples were too sweet and soft and reduced to mush rather than caramelizing like I wanted them to, and the ratio of rice was far too low – the texture was just off. The risotto didn’t come together at all, and it pains me to admit this because there is little that I hate more than wasting food, but I just couldn’t save it. So at 9:30 at night, after going through the seven stages of failed-dinner-induced grief, I made spaghetti with sautéed tomatoes. And it was fine, if uninspired. We didn’t go to bed hungry.

Another dish I was desperate to make immediately if not sooner was Terry B’s gorgeous pizza. Mike usually does the pizza making in our household, making his own dough, grilling pizzas in the summer and turning out an iron skillet version in colder months, but I wanted to start sampling some of the pre-made pizza dough available to us. I had him pick up a package of dough (from Olga’s Cup and Saucer) at Whole Foods, and I used it as the base of our pizza. I sautéed a mix of white and small portabella mushrooms from Wishing Stone Farm with plenty of fresh thyme and a healthy splash of sherry, and layered them on the par-baked crust with a little roasted tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced red onion and grated parmesan. I topped the pie with a big handful of baby arugula when it came out of the oven, a sprinkle of flaky salt and a drizzle of olive oil. The crust smelled and tasted great, but I let it bake too long – it was, shall we say, extra-crispy. The toppings were fantastic, though – a great combination of flavors and textures, and I must thank Terry for the inspiration.

Despite the fact that neither of these dishes turned out quite as I had hoped they would, I’m eager to try my hand at them again. I just hope I can get back on track tonight.

Lunch Break

Sometimes I get an idea in my head and I just don’t allow myself the time or space to pull it off. I mean, making a fresh pasta dough is so easy with Big Red and her pasta rollers, I figured making a quick mid-week lasagna would be a snap, especially with some nontraditional fillings inside. We had these beautiful beets, for instance – three different kinds – and the greens could be sauteed with some shallot and olive oil, chopped fine and mixed with local goat and ricotta cheeses.

Unfortunately, I left my beautiful pasta sheets sitting for far too long under a damp towel, and by the time my water was boiling and I returned to them, they were a sodden mess, completely unusable. I darn near cried. (I’m still a little sad about it.)

But I had to get something together for dinner since I had boiling water and all of these ingredients prepped, and I couldn’t bear to let them go to waste. So I pulled out the heartiest dried pasta we had around – some perciatelli (like a slightly thicker bucatini), which I boiled until short of al dente, tossed with my ricotta/goat cheese mix and the basic béchamel I had on deck, then layered the dressed pasta in my oiled casserole dish with alternate layers of red, gold and striped beets. I lightly pressed the pasta down, drizzled a little olive oil over the top to aid in browning, put it in the oven and waited.

Dinner:  September 9, 2008

About 25 minutes later, we had a baked pasta casserole. It was good but not stellar that first night, however, it was really good the next day as leftovers for lunch. And speaking of leftovers:

trimmings

I had cut all of the little trimmings from my fresh pasta sheets into uneven shapes and dried them slightly so that Mike could cook them up for lunch for himself during the week. He did, dressing them with a little fresh tomato sauce he also whipped up. I made him promise to take pictures:


above photo by Michael Dietsch

Might have to try that myself sometime.

Fried

I’m not sure but I think the excessive heat we’ve had the last two days has impaired my ability to successfully put a meal together. I didn’t even attempt it on Monday night (we ordered a pizza), but since Mike had installed the air conditioner, I figured I’d give it a shot last night. After all, we had a package of Bomster Scallops thawed in the fridge, and I was anxious to see what the fuss is all about. I figured they’d be a good option for a quick dinner anyway, as scallops really take just minutes to cook, and they wouldn’t heat up the kitchen too much.

Bomster scallops

I decided rather than searing the scallops, I’d give them a brief soak in buttermilk before coating them in cornmeal. The first problem I encountered is that our buttermilk had frozen in the back of the fridge (as did our crème fraiche, which is why the lemon-savory cream I planned to serve with the scallops didn’t materialize – strike two).

I pressed forward, figuring the buttermilk slush would re-liquefy soon enough (it did). But then I used the wrong pan. Now, you all know how much I love our cast iron skillet, and I use it for darn near everything, but the thing just got too nuclear hot for these scallops – my first batch stuck to the pan, leaving charred cornmeal in the bottom, the scallops still raw.

Dinner:  June 10, 2008

I quickly grabbed our nonstick pan and got that heating for the next batch, and it worked better, though the crust itself was pretty unsuccessful – the scallops gave off so much liquid after I pulled them out of the pan that the crust was soggy by the time I plated. They were tasty, but not at all what I had intended.

Riso Venere

I was more successful with the accompaniments – black rice cooked with shallot and lots of fresh summer savory (already chopped for the lemon-savory cream that was not to be), and blanched shaved asparagus, all dressed with a healthy squeeze of lemon juice. It was light and fresh tasting, not to mention lovely to look at, and I’ll likely revisit the combination in the future. I’m betting it would be great with a poached egg on top.

I wouldn’t call this meal a complete disaster, but it was disappointing. The scallops themselves were, as advertised, really delicious, and I look forward to picking up more at the farmers’ market this weekend and giving them another go next week. But I’ll skip the cornmeal crust.

(On an unrelated note, check out Mike’s first contribution to the Tales of the Cocktail blog, up today.)